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MATH 12 — Math in the Wild: Using Mathematical Thinking to Solve Messy Real-World Problems

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Tuesdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 5 weeks
Date(s): Feb 12—Mar 12
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Feb 25
Unit: 1
Grade Restriction: No letter grade
Tuition: $315
Instructor(s): Keith Devlin, Gary Antonick
Limit: 50
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Feb 12—Mar 12
5 weeks
Drop By
Feb 25
1 Unit
Grade Restriction
No letter grade
Keith Devlin, Gary Antonick
Typical math class problems are precisely formulated and have unique, correct answers. That does not reflect the way mathematics is most commonly used today in the everyday world, where problems tend to be messy and not well defined, and may admit a range of different solutions. For example, how does a company like UPS schedule its package routings to maximize revenue, minimize costs, meet contractual delivery times, and set prices? Using mathematical thinking to solve questions like these requires deciding what factors to concentrate on, where and how to apply mathematical ideas and structures, and if and when to “do math.”

In addition to looking at big problems like UPS scheduling, we will also tackle some more constrained problems that seem obvious but turn out to have a hidden sting. For example, what do the five balls really do when you set the Newton’s Cradle desktop timewaster into motion?

Throughout, we will find ourselves constantly reflecting on what exactly mathematics is, how it is done today (in a world where machines can perform any mathematical procedure faster, more accurately, and with far more variables than any human could handle), and what makes it so incredibly powerful as a tool to understand and do things in the world.

This course requires knowledge of high school mathematics through Algebra 2. While calculus is not required, some familiarity with calculus and calculus-based mathematics will be beneficial.

Keith Devlin, Senior Researcher and Executive Director, H-STAR Institute, Stanford

Keith Devlin is the author of thirty-three books, several for the general reader. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a fellow of the American Mathematical Society, and “The Math Guy” on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition. A popular blogger on mathematics, education, and technology, he also writes a monthly online column, “Devlin’s Angle,” for the Mathematical Association of America and is a commentator for The Huffington Post. He received a PhD from the University of Bristol.

Gary Antonick, Visiting Scholar, H-STAR Institute, Stanford

Gary Antonick is an instructor at Stanford, the High School of East China Normal University (HSEFZ School) in Shanghai, and at Google, where he teaches mathematical thinking and creative problem-solving. He was also a long-time columnist for The New York Times, producing the weekly feature “Numberplay,” in which professional mathematicians and the lay public collaborated to produce original solutions to math challenges. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.